Nuclear Power and Its Effect on the Environment


Globalization and technological advancement has contributed immensely towards an increase in the number of industries in the world. In the process of production, fuel is required to run some machines; however, this fuel is a major source of pollution to the environment. Fossil fuels, for example, emit gases (when burnt) that are harmful to human beings and the environment at large. Kyoto protocol, which is aimed at reducing the amount of gases emitted in the atmosphere, noted that among the major emitters of green house gases is burning of fossil fuels. One of the recent dangers that have been caused by burning of fossil fuels is global warming.

Since industrial revolution begun, human activities has increasingly emitted green house gases leading to increased radioactive forces from gases present in the atmosphere. The major sources of energy are burning of oil, fuel, and coal. Recognizing the dangers that are posed by fossil fuel emissions, Australian government was in the fore front to look for alternative measures to provide power. One of the ways that was suggested was the use of nuclear weapon as a source of power in industries. However, the move has been challenged by various people and other partner countries. This paper looks into advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear power as a source of energy; it will be more focused on areas affecting the environment.

Nuclear Energy in Australia

Australia has the world’s largest depot of uranium; uranium is a major raw material in the production of nuclear energy, however it is ironical that Australia does not use these reserves to produce nuclear power (Alastair 1-2). One of the reasons that have been brought about for this situation is the availability of rich coal deposits in the country that are used as sources of energy. Despite this, there are moves put forward to ensure that nuclear energy is adopted in the country. There is growing number of campaigners against the move. Australian Nuclear Energy was established in 2006 to advise the government on whether it should develop a plan that makes nuclear energy. In its operation it has considered different views held by both opposing and those proposing the move.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power has been used for a long time as a weapon. The use of nuclear power is destructive to the environment. Nuclear plants when well developed can produce high energy to be utilized in industries as source of energy. It is produced by controlling nuclear reactions and directing them to yield energy. Nuclear fusion (reaction) is the one employed (for commercial purposes) to produce heat that results in electricity production. By the year 2009 10-15 % of world electricity was thought to have come from nuclear energy sources. On the other hand, naval vessels using nuclear energy are more than 150 in United States. Nuclear (power) is generated via the fission process; hydrogen fusion can as well generate the same. It is estimated to have a 10million times more power than coal (Revor 10-11). This high energy level together with other advantages discussed below has given advocators of its use a strong base for argument.

Advantages of Using Nuclear Energy to the Environment


In countries that use radioactive power, the waste is minimal; it is estimated to be 1%. This means that radioactive energy produces far less industrial waste than fossil energy (Cravens 464). When the waste has been disposed, depending on the way that one will adopt to dispose, they may end up polluting air and water. When a factory produces smoke into the atmosphere, it’s adding more particles to the air and reducing its level of purity. On the other hand, some firms go ahead with disposing wastes into the available water bodies. These are impurities that have been added into the water. Some of them are soluble in water and thus the naked eyes cannot be able to see them, this causes a lot of danger to the human beings and animals.

When animals and human beings take drink the water, there is a danger since the water may have been contaminated. When using fossil fuel, wastes are high and thus will pollute an environment faster than in using of nuclear energy (Kragh 256). Fission and fusion are physical reactions that produce heat as reactants come into contact. On the other hand, combustion of fossil fuel is a chemical reaction that leads to emissions that are dangerous to the environment.

Machinery in factories that use fuel produce smoke such that when it gets to the atmosphere it has negative effects. This happens for the reason that as machines move, some smoke is produced; some smoke that gets into the air and cause a great threat. The machinery smoke contains carbon monoxide. When this goes into the air, it is immiscible and thus one may think that the air is very pure but the fact is that there is a lot of pollution in the air.

Particles in the atmosphere, remain there for a long time, when it rains the particles are mixed with water and what is referred to as acid rain falls. When the acid rain falls, the entire emission that the motor vehicles had emitted finds its way to the water bodies. Plants and animals living in these water bodies that have been polluted by emissions are affected; it may even lead to death of aquatic animals. Nuclear energy, if well adopted, is likely to give a solution to these problems, this is because the emissions produced are minimal; it does not contain carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

Can be tapped

Emissions produced from a nuclear energy can be tapped and used for other factors. Uranium and plutonium that are major components in a nuclear energy plant can be tapped up to 95% and used to make mixed oxide oil. Advocators of the bill are of the opinion that with the increased world technology, the waste from nuclear plants can be tapped for other benefits; this is in contrary to the case of fossil fuels. When the emissions are tapped, tight steel containers are used to lock them air tight and disposed in a way that won’t affect the environment.

One of the ways that United State of America has adopted to dispose these wastes is destroying them in underground plants. These plants ensure that the disposed materials do not harm human beings or the environment. This is an advantage over fossil fuel production whereby the wastes cannot be tapped for economic gain: the only way to dispose fossil fuel is to release to the environment. Disposing in any other way will destroy it


Australia has the world’s largest uranium deposit in the world. As demand for fuel in industries is growing, national oil reserves and oil wells are draining. The maturity time fro fossil fuel takes a long period of time and thus depending on natural recovery , relying on them for generation of electricity can be seen as a short term measure. Nuclear energy can be manufactured in laboratories so that if well regulated, it can be the future energy source.

Natural gas and petroleum are other sources of energy. Natural gas comes from wells or from petroleum deposits. It is a mixture of gases such as methane, ethane, and many others. It then undergoes condensation in order to produce some fuels and the remainder is used either commercially or in residential apartments. Europe is the continent that is very rich in natural gas followed by the western hemisphere. Natural gas is clean compared to coal and petroleum although it leads to global warming. Petroleum is formed underground in organic rocks. Most of these reserves have already been exploited and there is fear that oil might be exhausted in the near future.

When oil and natural gas are used as sources of energy, they emit gases into the environment that pollutes it. In this case when nuclear energy is used, then there will be cure to this pollution. One of the problem set aside as the reason why Kyoto protocol has not been fully implemented is that it limits development, if nuclear energy is adopted, then there will be progress and sustained development. Clean energy blueprint investigated on ways of promoting diversity in production of energy and its conservation and looked into the cost effective methods. It recommended the use of alternative methods of generating energy and emphasized on the use of renewable sources such as wind and geothermal. Application of the renewable (sources) is taken to be environmental friendly as well as economical in terms of cost.

Carbon Emission

Using of nuclear energy reduces emission of carbon to the environment. Carbon is one of the green house emissions which lead to global warming. Kyoto protocol that was ratified in Japan, on 11 December 1997 and was aimed to be fully implemented by 16 February 2005 recommends for adoption of clean technology. The main aim of the protocol was to ensure that emission of green house gases (carbon gases) was reduced by 5% (below their level in 1990) by the end of 2010.

The protocol targeted the major greenhouse emitters and developed measures to be implemented. It recommended that if each country was to reduce its level of emission, then global warming could be reduced (Ernesto 12-56). Global warming is the gradual increase in earth’s surface temperature. The increased temperature leads to an increased melting of snow and ice.

The resultant of the melting is an increased global sea level. It is estimated that from 1906 to 2005, earth’s surface temperatures rose by 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (Trenberth 244). There are numerous ways that the protocol puts forward to ensure that its objectives are fulfilled. One of the ways is adoption of clean technology. This is a technology that does not emit (or emits minimal) green house gases. The use of nuclear energy is seen as a move to comply with Kyoto protocol as an alternative green energy source.

The 1995 National greenhouse Gas Inventory reported that, the net annual discharge of greenhouse gases in Australia was more than four hundred million tons of carbon dioxide. The highest percentage (about 18%) was contributed by agriculture activities while forestry and land use contributed about 12%. Other activities that led to the increase in carbon dioxide were rice cultivation, use of fertilizers, and burning of waste. Anticipated carbon dioxide emissions gradually augmented from 1988 to 1995 and it is probable that it may increase further by the end of this year.

Holding back the increase in emissions, as agreed under Kyoto protocol, is going to necessitate grave changes in management. In its National Greenhouse Response Strategy, the Australian government is on the lookout for supporting agricultural practices that lessen greenhouse gas emission and preserve or improve greenhouse gas sinks. Suggested procedures include but not limited to, reduced soil interruption and soil erosion through enhanced soil tillage, consequently upholding the usefulness of the soil as a sink for greenhouse gases (Commonwealth of Australia 57).

Australia has rich and cheap coal deposits; this has made the country to use the energy for its industrial use and thus adding greener house gases in the environment. If this trend is to be reverted, then the adoption of clean technology should be advocated and adopted by industries (EIA 1). One of those ways is the use of nuclear energy which is freely available in the country (see appendixes for carbon emission).

Air pollution

Of late we have had vessels made to use nuclear energy. One of the areas that pollution in the environment has been witnessed is in transport industry. The sea vessels’, vehicles, and the planes that we use to move from one place to another is another source of pollution. As they move smoke is produced which gets into the air and cause a great threat. The motor vehicles produce carbon monoxide. When this goes into the air, it is immiscible and thus one may think that the air is very pure but the fact is that there is a lot of pollution in the air.

When the particles get in the atmosphere, it remain there for a long time, when it rains the particles are mixed with water and what is referred to as acid rain falls. When the acid rain falls, the entire emission that the motor vehicles had emitted finds its way to the water bodies. The water purity is thus reduced. With nuclear energy this will be reduced and lead to a sustainable environment. Coal is an alternative source of energy; it was discovered many years ago when plants which were found on the swamp decomposed.

The decomposition of these plants left a substance that was rich in carbon. This substance was condensed to produce coal which was a form of carbon. Coal is burned to produce heat and this heat is used in various ways for instance in the boiling of water. Although coal is mined cheaply it has some negative effects to the environment. A major drawback of coal is that it leads to global warming and creates numerous environmental problems. If nuclear energy is adopted the effects of coal will be reduced.

Saves Forests

Some industries use firewood as their source of energy; when this happens, deforestation results. Deforestation has led to numerous challenges to human nature. For example occurrence of hot spots; a hotspot is characterized by a natural depleted environment that has been of great use by the people but through the very people’s action, there is overexploitation of natural setting leaving it to affect them negatively. It is characterized by exceptional levels of plant endemism.

The animals that initially used to live there have been characterized with serious levels of habitat loss. To qualify as a hotspot then the area covering it must be having over 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics, and the various losses can amount to over 70 percent of its original habitat an example is Atlantic forest in South America (Galindo & Câmara 23-45). Sustainable development is about caring for the present generation and not limiting future generation the use of available resources; so if the right energy is used in our case nuclear energy, then the environment is protected for current and future generation.

On the other hand, forests plays a major role in reducing this; forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis; however, when the forests are destroyed then large amounts of carbon dioxide which is the main green house gas are released into the atmosphere which increases global warming. Urbanization and industrialization have also played a major role in deforestation where some industries like the paper factories use wood directly from forests to make paper (Chiras 55).


Producing nuclear power leads to environmental, health, and economic injuries. There is no 100% set method to control negative effects brought about by nuclear plants emissions; neither is there a way to avoid emission. It is realized that the current sources of energy are still dangerous to the environment but hold that nuclear reactants are more dangerous. The following are disadvantages of using nuclear energy;

High Level of Radioactive Wastes

Radioactive wastes are produced in the production of nuclear energy and affect the life of human beings and the environment that they live in negatively (Bodansky 249). The effects of nuclear reactants spill over can be understood by the effects that it had on Japan after 1945 attack by United States. Today, many years after the bombing, the effects are still felt on the people who survived as they suffer from cancer, leukemia, and other related illnesses.

These diseases have been carried forward genetically to their offspring in the succeeding generations. The Americans were better placed to understand the long term effect of the nuclear bombing. Though the target was Japan, the wind blew the nuclear gas to neighboring countries and the effect of the poisonous gas was felt beyond the Japanese borders. Other than people, soil and plants in the countries have been affected as a result. When released into the environment, detecting the presence of nuclear emission in the environment is not easy and thus the resultant damage is gradual and massive.

These radioactive substances are able to attach themselves on building’s walls for long and thus have a continued effect on the occupants and those who will occupy them later. The spread of the substances and the disease there from is more fast in highly populated areas due to ease in contact among people and inadequate sanitation facilities (Walker 12-34).

In the misfortunes of leakages, Ukraine has been affected by Chernobyl disaster on 26 April 1986. The leakage was as result of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant; there was huge damage caused which is still felt even today. These memories are fresh in the minds of criticizers and thus they fear the repeat of a similar occurrence.

Mining issues

Mining of uranium will have an effect on the environment; it will call for opening up of pits to get the raw material. Pits are dangerous to the environment and the soils from these pits destroy the ground, killing plants and influence the sanity of soils. During mining, there is a lot of dust from the sites which is contaminated with harmful uranium components. This will harm the environment (Falk 88). There was a mine in South west United States that was operated by Navajo tribe, the mine was closed in 1970 when the tribe realized that there was an increased number of deaths as a result of mining uranium in the neighborhood (Mariotte 43-46).


In 1979, there was a leakage of nuclear reactant plant in Pennsylvania, the result was a wide spread increase in the number of cancer diseases. Studies noted that over 200-300% of increase in leukemia was as a result of the leakage and 600-700% of increase in lung cancer was as a result of the same (Mariotte 43-46). The problem that nuclear plants face is that they cannot wholly prevent an emission from occurring. Cancer is a disease that is not curable, it has continued to kill and paralyze people. When nuclear reactants are present in the environment they hinder the salinity of the atmosphere and leads to cancer.

Dangers of Leakage

There is no fully reliable method that has been developed to ensure that there is no leakage of radio-active components, the problem is on the nature of the products. One of the ways that have been recommended to reduce any emission from radio-active plants is the use of steel cans; however it is appreciated that despite the fact that they have been locked, there are high chances of reacting with the can and the gases will find their way out. This storage measure has been subjected to wastes; however it is seen as a temporary measure that will solve today’s problem but exposing the future generations.

It is an Expensive Venture

The dangers that are posed by any emission of radiations have been recognized and before a plant has been approved, there is huge capital. There must be the plant itself and other facilities that are made to prevent emission, however the preventive methods not 100% safe despite the high capital consumption.

It is non renewable source of energy

People opposing the move to produce nuclear energy are of the opinion that the source of energy is not renewable thus it will eventually affect the sanity of the environment. Non renewable energy sources are available naturally and cannot be produced or reused. Non renewable sources exist in rigid amounts and people tend to consume them at a faster rate than they can be created by nature. For sustainable development to be realized the world should adopt renewable sources of energy.

These are resources that are found naturally such as wind, sunlight, water, and geothermal. Renewable can be replenished naturally. Most of the renewable sources are environmental friendly and are not exhaustible, that is, no much pollution although their power generation is limited to an extent that they cannot be able sustains large scale power generation. Producing nuclear energy consumes a lot of money to put them up and also their maintenance is costly. The reserves available for nuclear power are likely to diminish in the next fifty years. This will leave a mark on the environment; what the world is doing is to satisfy current needs of energy at the risk of limiting future generations use.

Plant can be strategic terrorist’s points

For security purposes, these plants can be target points and if successful, the effect can be wide spread. If the manufacturing plants are bombed, emitted radioactive materials of which will have adverse effects? Developing a nuclear plant is fighting campaigns that are aimed to reduce nuclear weapon production. When a plant is the target point the damage is expected to reach areas that they were not supposed to reach. This is creating a weak point in the country.

Advantage Disadvantages
It is a cheap and available source of energy It is expensive to administer and maintain the plants
It is more favorable to the environment than fossil fuels Its destruction are immediate long lasting and more harmful to the environment
Can be tapped and the reserves are adequate for the foreseeable future Terrorist attack on plants
Minimal carbon emission and thus minimal air pollution Dangers of leakage
Produces minimal environmental waste Non renewable source of energy
Mining issues and environmental destruction


Fuel is required to run some machines; however, these fuels are major sources of pollution to the environment. The major source of fuels used is fossil fuels, after burning gases are emitted to the environment that affect human beings and the environment at large. Nuclear energy is considered as one of the clean forms of energy sources available. Nuclear (power) is generated via the fission process; also hydrogen fusion can as well generate the same.

When these reactants go through a fusion or fission process, heat produced is used to heat water; the heated water is used to rotate turbines for electricity production. It has some advantages as a source of energy to the environment since it emits minimal carbon and solid wastes to the environment. It also indirectly protects natural and artificial forests; forests are important for sustainable development. It is also a cheap way of producing energy.

Despite these advantages, Australia is facing challenges in its efforts to establish a full blown economy with its major source of energy as nuclear power; this is so due to the disadvantage that is brought against nuclear power. The major disadvantage of using nuclear power is on its radioactive emission to the atmosphere; this affects the environment and lives of human beings negatively. It is also an expensive venture. Nuclear energy is seen as the future source of energy, if well managed, since it upholds sustainable development.

Producing nuclear energy is an expensive development which exposes a country to dangers of leakages and leads to strategic terror attack points. In 1979, there was a leakage of nuclear reactant plant in Pennsylvania, the result was a wide spread increase in the number of cancer diseases When the plant are made, they are likely to pose danger in managing and maintaining them. Australia has the world largest nuclear potential, however there is no single nuclear power emission as the country is conscious of the dangers that such a plant can bring to the country.

Works Cited

Alastair, HARRIS. Nuclear Power for Australia? Web.

Bodansky, David. Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. New York: Springer, 2004.

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Commonwealth of Australia. National Greenhouse Response Strategy. Australian Government publishing service, Canberra, 1992.

Cravens, Gwyneth. Power to Save the World: the Truth about Nuclear Energy. New York: Knopf, 2007.

EIA 2008. Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions. Web.

Ernesto, Zedillo, E. Global warming: looking beyond Kyoto. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2008.

Falk, Jim. Global Fission: The Battle over Nuclear Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Galindo, Leal and Câmara, Deg. (Eds.). The Atlantic Forest of South America: Biodiversity Status, Threats and Outlook. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2003.

Kragh, Helge. Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Mariotte, Michael. “Second Thoughts on Nuclear Power.” Futurist 43.6 (2009): 23. Professional Development Collection. EBSCO. Web. 8 Sept. 2010.

Revor, Findlay. The Future of Nuclear Energy to 2030 and its Implications for Safety, Security and Nonproliferation: Overview, The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). Ontario: Canada, 2010.

Trenberth, Kevin E.; et al. “Chapter 3: Observations: Surface and Atmospheric Climate Change” (PDF). IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Walker, J. Samuel. Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective. California: University of California Press, 2004.


(Million Metric Tons of CO2)
Total Emissions
1. China 6534 Capita Emissions (Tons/Capita)
2. United States 5833 19.18
3. Russia 1729 12.29
4. India 1495 1.31
5. Japan 1214 9.54
6. Germany 829 10.06
7. Canada 574 17.27
8. United Kingdom 572 9.38
9. Korea, South 542 11.21
10. Iran 511 7.76
11. Saudi Arabia 466 16.56
12. Italy 455 7.82
13. South Africa 451 9.25
14. Mexico 445 4.04
15. Australia 437 20.82
16. Indonesia 434 1.83
17. Brazil 428 2.18
18. France 415 6.48
19. Spain 359 8.86
20. Ukraine 350 7.61

data from EIA 2008

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